Novels are a pretty fertile ground for board games to draw inspiration. There are 2563 listings of games in the “Novel-Based” category on BoardGameGeek, and not all of those are based on the Cthulhu Mythos. As in past editions, I’m going to be taking a look at games I haven’t played on this topic. However, I’m going to approach it a bit differently and look at the authors whose works inspired these games. I’m looking at the first eleven authors who have had games based on their works, which will take us from #13 to #623 on the BGG scale.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973) was an English writer best known for creating Middle-earth, the fantasy world setting of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Simarillion. Even before the highly successful Lord of the Rings movies came out in the early 21st century, this fantasy world was being used in games like Reiner Knizia’s The Lord of the Rings (2000, #898). I have played that one, as well as The Lord of the Rings Card Game (2011, #133). But I haven’t played most other games, including War of the Ring (first edition 2004, #132; second edition 2012, #13); The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-Earth (2019, #89); Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation (2002, #547; extended edition 2005, #378); The Battle of Five Armies (2014, #533); and Middle-Earth Quest (2009, #606). There are, of course, others, but I’m limiting my range here.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) probably inspired more games than anyone else out there with his creation of the Cthulhu Mythos. These horror tales about interdimensional monsters who are just moments away from devouring humanity have captured the imagination of designers for many years, and will continue to do so for years to come. I feel like Cthulhu is in most games, but the only official ones I’ve played are Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition (2016, #34), Arkham Horror (2005, #336), and Elder Sign (2011, #568). Ones I haven’t played include Arkham Horror: The Card Game (2016, #22); Eldritch Horror (2013, #86); Arkham Horror 3rd Edition (2018, #300); and Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu (2016, #379).
Frank Herbert (1920-1986) is the author who created the sci-fi series Dune. Dune takes place in the future, where humans are fighting over control over a spice producing planet called Arrakis. It probably will drop my geek cred several notches to admit this, but Dune is a novel I have never read. Nor have I seen the movie. I really don’t know much about the franchise at all, though I did play the original Dune game (1979, #324) once. Or rather, I played a few rounds of it, but had to leave long before it was over. So I haven’t played a full game of it. I also haven’t played Dune Imperium (2020, #55) or the recent reprint of the original game (2019, #261). And I understand that a more streamlined version of the original will be coming out soon as well.
Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) was an English writer whose most famous work, Robinson Crusoe, is said to be second only to the Bible in having the most different translations. Robinson Crusoe is about a man shipwrecked alone on an island and his survival over a period of seven years. This is another novel I haven’t read, but it’s one that has captured the imagination of game designers like Ignacy Trzewiczek/Joanna Kijanka (Robinson Cruse: Adventures on the Cursed Island, 2012, #60) and Friedemann Friese (Friday, 2011, #425). I have played Friday, I have not played Robinson Crusoe, which I understand is pretty brutal.
Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) created the single most famous detective character in the history of fiction, Sherlock Holmes. Over the course of four novels and 56 shorts stories, Sherlock Holmes and his companion, Dr. Watson, solved every case that came their way. Holmes has proven to be a very resilient character over the years, still popping up in movies and popular fiction, as well as board games. This includes games I haven’t played like Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (1982, #102) and Unmatched: Cobble & Fog (2020, #616). Cobble & Fog, by the way, also features The Invisible Man (as created by HG Wells), Jekyll & Hyde (as created by Robert Louis Stevenson), and another character that will come up shortly.
George RR Martin (1948) is an American fantasy writer known for his series A Song of Ice and Fire. Beginning with A Game of Thrones, the series currently consists of five novels and spawned an award winning HBO series. It’s also been the basis for several games I have not played, including A Games of Thrones: The Board Games (first edition, 2003, #490; second edition, 2011, #141) and A Game of Thrones: The Card Game (first edition, 2008, #1034; second edition, 2015, #497). I have read the first four books in the series, and knowing what I know about the politics involved, I’m not that eager to play the games.
Bram Stoker (1947-1912) was an Irish author who created what is arguably the most famous horror character ever in his vampire known as Count Dracula. It is said that Dracula was based on Vlad the Impaler, the infamous 15th century ruler of Romania. He has appeared in countless books, movies, and the like ever since. In board games, he’s popped up in games like Fury of Dracula (first edition, 1987, #2199; second edition, 2005, #565; third/fourth edition, 2015, #231) and Unmatched: Cobble & Fog (he’s the fourth character I alluded to earlier).
Jules Verne (1828-1905) was a French author best known for works like Journey to the Center of the Earth, Around the World in Eighty Days, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. 20,000 Leagues in particular was a very forward looking novel, as the Nautilus was more like submarines of today than about the ones of Verne’s time. It followed the adventures of Captain Nemo, who was subject of the solo game I haven’t played called Nemo’s War (first edition, 2009, #4244; second edition, 2017, #259). I’ve heard very good things about the game, and am very interested to try it out whenever I get a chance.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), better known as Lewis Carroll, was the English author who gave us Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass. These children’s fantasy books follow Alice as she enters the world known as Wonderland and meets many strange new friends there. There are a few Alice themed games out there (I particularly like Parade), but not nearly enough. From the range I’m looking at today, Alice is used as a character in Unmatched: Battle of Legends, vol. 1. This game also includes King Arthur, Medusa, and Sinbad, all characters from legend rather than a specific work, so Alice is the oddity here.
Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) was an American pulp author who basically created the sword and sorcery genre with his character Conan the Barbarian. Conan was an adventurer in the Hyborian Age after the destruction of Atlantis, but before the rise of civilization. He’s the subject of the game I haven’t played Conan (2016, #487), but I can’t picture him without thinking of Arnold Schwarzenegger from the 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian. Actually, having not seen that either, my clearest picture is Conan the Librarian from the 1989 movie UHF (don’t you know the Dewey Decimal System?).
Ken Follett (1949) was known as a spy thriller writer before completing his 1989 epic The Pillars of the Earth. This novel was about the construction of a fictional cathedral in Kingsbridge, England, in the 12th century. This novel was made into one of the earliest worker placement games, The Pillars of the Earth, in 2006. I have played Pillars, and it’s a great game, the only one of the series I have played. I need to play again. The sequel novel, World Without End, came out in 2007, and its board game adaptation (#623) followed in 2009. The third novel in the series and its board game adaptation, A Column of Fire, were both published in 2017. The fourth novel, a prequel called The Evening and the Morning, came out in 2020 and does not have a board game adaptation yet.
A couple of authors whose works inspired games I have played: JK Rowling for Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle (2016, #290), and Terry Pratchett for Discworld: Ankh-Morpork (2011, #481).
There you go. More than my typical eleven games I know, but hopefully I’ve inspired you to play and/or read some of these games/books. That’s all for today – stay safe out there, and thanks for reading!